Tim Biskup’s 100 Paintings

100 PAINTINGS
Tim Biskup’s new book 100 PAINTINGS is tiny – about 5″ x 5″ – but that’s because the 100 paintings in it are even tinier – 3-1/2″ x 3-1/2″. All of the works in the book are reproduced at actual size. The Dark Horse release is printed very nicely, with the paintings set against black paper, which really serves to bring out the rich colors in Tim’s work. I can’t imagine many other artists being able to pull off a project like this, as one hundred paintings created in such a confining canvas size has the potential of quickly becoming repetitive and tedious. But as Gary Baseman writes in the book’s introduction, Tim’s work can be likened to a jazz musician improvising, and the way Tim manipulates colors and shapes in each painting is constantly imaginative and fresh. There is more effusive praise from me on the book’s duskjacket, so needless to say I recommend picking up a copy of this book.The wait for Tim’s next volume of miniature paintings may be a while though: he writes in the book that he’s currently working on the “Jackson 500″ which is an ambitious series of 500 business card-sized paintings.

“VICTORY” IN DC

stop that tankDave Bossert, who produced the ON THE FRONT LINES dvd and hosted a fantastic 35mm screening of World War II Disney cartoons last night in Glendale (see Christian Ziebarth’s review on Animation News) is going east.On Sunday May 23, at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Springs Maryland, Dave will be hosting a 35mm screening of the feature VICTORY THROUGH AIR POWER and several wartime Disney shorts. This will be the only east coast public showing of these films. For more information, go here (this screening was set up so fast, the info hasn’t been posted on the website yet).

Directing TV Animation Part 1

The job of directing an animated TV show varies with each production. There’s no single way to approach it and how much power a director has will vary enormously. What I want to talk about in these articles are some of issues that directors have to deal with.

First, let’s talk about live action direction for TV. The director’s job is to communicate to the actors how something should be played. The director deals with how a scene is staged for the camera and where the camera is located for each shot, all the time keeping pacing in mind.

In animation, the job is very different. Depending on the production, there may be a recording director who’s responsible for recording voice tracks for all episodes. There may be a storyboard supervisor, who’s responsible for directing the boards for all episodes. There may also be a timing supervisor who oversees the sheet timing for the show. Depending on the budget, the production may have a layout supervisor to oversee layouts. In other cases, layouts are done overseas.

The director may participate in all these aspects, providing notes or approvals, but won’t be doing the work himself or herself. The animation will be sent someplace (probably in Asia) to be done and then the director will call retakes for scenes that have mistakes or need to be revised. The director will probably never meet the animators and depending on the production, may never meet the voice talent either.

In live action TV, the director has his or her hands on everything and is communicating directly with the people doing the work. In TV animation, the director is often separated from the people doing the work by levels of bureaucracy or by thousands of miles.

Sick of Indian Animation Yet?

An enlightening interview with the heads of the Indian animation studio Padmalaya Telefilms can be found HERE. The execs discuss various topics like how the studio has its own training school, ZICA (Zed Institute of Creative Animation), which offers its graduating students a 100% job placement guarantee. They also say that to produce a half-hour of quality animation in India would cost $3 million rupees, or approximately $66,000 US.

DISNEY WARTIME CARTOONS TONIGHT

reasoin and emotionI WANT YOU to join me and Disney producer Dave Bossert at a special screening, tonight, of 35mm restored prints of Walt Disney World War II cartoons.Asifa-Hollywood is celebrating the release of the landmark Disney Treasures DVD On The Front Lines at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.
We will be raffling off an advance copy of the DVD. Dave and I will discuss the restorations, how this dvd came to be, and the cartoons themselves.
The special screening will take place tonight, Tuesday, May 11, 2004, at 8:00 P.M.
Alex Theatre
216 North Brand Boulevard
Glendale, CA
General Admission Tickets: $10
Members of ASIFA-Hollywood – $7.00
Members of the Alex Film Society – $7.00
Purchase tickets online or call the Alex Theatre box office at 818-243-ALEX (2539).
More Info: www.alextheatre.org or www.asifa-hollywood.org

GREG BURSON ARRESTED

burson & yogiAnimation voice actor Greg Burson, best known for Yogi Bear and Bugs Bunny (“Carrotblanca”) was arrested at his home in Tujunga. Early details of this story were reported by NBC. Police surrounded his residence for several hours this morning, in a locally televised standoff which included a SWAT team standing by. Burson later surrendered to police and has been charged with misdemeanor battery.

The TV Animation Business Part 5

How Companies Keep Their Costs Down: Co-production

Imagine this scenario. You live in the United States, but when you turn on your TV, 95% of the shows come from Mexico. Yes, they’ve been dubbed into English, but the people, the stories and the locations are clearly not local to the U.S.

That is the scenario that faces people in other parts of the world. When they turn on their TV’s, they’re often seeing American programming. In order to keep local programming alive and to nurture a local industry, countries have instituted quota systems. They demand that channels broadcast a certain percentage of shows that are made locally.

The problem is that the local market is often too small to support local programming. Canada’s population is only 30 million people and when you divide them up into audiences for each channel, those audiences are pretty small. You can’t charge a high enough subscription fee or charge advertisers enough to pay for programming.

Countries sign co-production treaties with each other specifying that a show co-produced by two treaty countries will be considered local content in each country. A Canada-Britain co-production is considered local programming in both Canada and Britain.

The benefit for producers is that they don’t have to raise all the money for a show locally, only a part of it. This makes it easier to finance shows. Governments like this because it keeps people working locally and the government can claim that they’re protecting local culture.

There are two downsides to co-production. One is that while a producer only has to raise a portion of the budget, the total budget of a co-production is higher than if a single producer was raising all the money. That’s because you’re paying overhead in two countries instead of one.

The other downside is that co-producers are investors, not subcontractors. As a result, any profit has to be split. In addition, investors have creative input where subcontractors don’t. Each co-producer probably has a local broadcaster signed on, which means that all creative decisions have to be approved by a large number of people who are trying to tailor the show to their own agendas. This inevitably leads to creative compromises that weaken a show. I can say from personal experience that the creator of a show is sometimes ignored when those compromises are being made.

If the point of local programming is to reflect the lives of the audience, co-productions themselves are a compromise. However, from a producer and government standpoint, half a loaf of local culture is better than none.

This wraps up my simplified explanation of the TV animation business. There are more wrinkles than can be covered here. However, this is some of what a producer or creator face when trying to get a show financed and made. If you want to know why certain shows turn up on your TV or why other shows don’t, the answer is most likely based on economics.

BEST BUY BARGAINS

blondie dvdTipped by a reader, I made a trip to a local Best Buy in search of a intriguing DVD set of BLONDIE movies. I luckily found one copy and purchased it.
This is an officially licensed (by Hearst Entertainment) set of the first ten Blondie features, produced by Columbia Pictures, starring Penny Singleton (“Jane Jetson”) and Arthur Lake (“Seaman Hook”). The video company, Platinum Disc Corp. of La Crosse, Wisconsin, obviously thinks these are TV episodes, but you are getting ten full length features compressed onto two discs – for $9.99!These are the King Features TV versions, with 3 minutes of the middle of the movie preceeding the corny theme song and TV title sequence before the full feature (no original Columbia titles), and the prints are in good condition. It’s a helluva deal for ten bucks… almost as good as the sets of eight Abbott & Costello features Universal is selling for $24.99.sci fi dvdWhile I was there I found another set of two DVDs sold together for $5.99 – SCI-FI: The Greatest Sci-Fi Cartoons of All Time has a large image of DO-DO THE KID FROM OUTER SPACE on the cover. Heck, I had to have that! Despite the cover claims of “Digital Restorations”, the DVD contains crappy 16mm transfers of P.D. cartoons such as DUCK & COVER, Colonel Bleep in The LUNAR LUGER, Harryhausen’s KING MIDAS, Pal’s Puppetoon JASPER IN A JAM, Hubley’s THE HOLE, Pintoff’s THE HUFFLESS PUFFLESS DRAGON, a couple of Fleischer SUPERMAN cartoons and a horrifying print of the “Stone-Age” cartoon GRANITE HOTEL. This was bundled with EXTREME FAIRY TALES (featuring Jiri Trinka’s EMPEROR’S NIGHTINGALE, Harryhausen’s RAPUNZEL, and Iwerk’s ComiColor shorts TOM THUMB, BREMENTOWN MUSICIANS and MARY’S LITTLE LAMB).For six bucks, that’s a heck of a lot of animation. I don’t reccommend these latter DVDs – but the price is right.

The TV Animation Business Part 4

How Companies Keep Their Costs Down: Outsourcing

Because the number of channels is growing proportionally faster than the number of viewers, each channel gets a smaller piece of the audience. As channels earn income from subscriptions or the size of the audience they can sell to advertisers, it means that their income goes down. That leaves them with less money to pay for programming.

Producers get paid less for animated TV shows than they used to. If you’re not a multinational corporation that can put your show on many channels internationally to make up the difference, you have no choice but to try and reduce how much you spend to make a show. The two ways animation producers do this are to outsource or co-produce.

Outsourcing means sending parts of the production to countries with lower wages. In animation, this has been going on at least since the 1960’s. The producers of Rocky and Bullwinkle sent work to Mexico at that time.

The upside to outsourcing is that the production saves money. However, there are many downsides. Usually, a producer will invite several subcontractors to bid on the job. This will force down the price, as the subcontractors know they have to bid low in order to win the work. It doesn’t matter if the show becomes a hit, the subcontractor only gets paid once for the work. Therefore, it’s in the subcontractor’s best interest to spend as little as possible on the work in order to maximize the profit. The producer wants the best possible show for the money; the subcontractor wants the cheapest possible show for the money. Usually, neither party ends up satisfied.

Another problem is that the subcontractor is usually 10 or more time zones away from the producer. If the subcontractor asks a question, the answer usually doesn’t arrive until a day later. Often, it’s easier to do the work wrong and fix it in retakes than to slow down production to wait for an answer.

Subcontractors often take on more work than they can handle and end up subcontracting the work yet again. This leaves even less money available to do the job and lengthens the lines of communications even more.

Cheap work and poor communications sometimes threaten delivery dates. In order to hit a delivery, quality is often compromised. If a delivery is missed, it costs the producers money.

Because the point of subcontracting is to save the producer money, the producer is always looking for a cheaper supplier. As the world economy changes, it means that animation work migrates from country to country in search of cheaper labor. Animation has moved from Japan to South Korea to Taiwan to the Philippines and now is being done in India and China. Each country gets 10-15 years before its economic growth makes it too expensive to do animation. Then the work goes somewhere cheaper, where the artists are not as experienced and so quality initially goes down.

It’s not long after a country trains its workforce and starts turning out good work that the work disappears. There are Chinese and Indian artists who are being born as you read this who will grow up hoping to work in animation and who will find that the jobs are gone by the time they finish school. Artists, no matter what country they live in, always end up the victims of outsourcing animation.

Next installment: Co-production

India’s Talent Crisis

Continuing our coverage of the Indian animation scene, here is an article from THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS that reports while India is expected to receive $2 billion worth of animation business in the next two years, there aren’t enough trained animation artists to execute that amount of work. The country currently employs 5000-6000 animation artists, and demand is expected to grow to 30,000 artists by next year. The talent shortage is so great that some studios have begun hiring billboard painters and having them retrained as animators. The article says that Ants Animation Training School will be setting up 50 training centers around the country by the end of this year, but Ashish Kapoor, CEO of animation studio JadooWorks, tells the newspaper: “The trained talent pool in India is not large enough to meet the potential demand. Animation requires very specialised training even for practising artists… India is not fully geared to take up this kind of work on a massive scale.”

(Article link via Deneroff.com)

SIMPSONS Voice Actors Swimming in D’oh

SIMPSONSThe LA WEEKLY’s Nikki Finke writes a fascinating account of the childish behind-the-scenes maneuvering that went on during the recently concluded SIMPSONS voice actor negotiations. The six voice actors didn’t get the $360,00 per episode that they were asking for, but did get a raise from $135,000 to $250,000 per episode. They also received a signing bonus. Bart’s voice Nancy Cartwright sent an email to her fellow voice actors: “Although we didn’t get everything we were going for, we certainly made HUGE strides, not only for ourselves personally, but for the entire voice-acting facet of the industry.” Another interesting bit is that during the course of negotiations, the agents for SIMPSONS producer James L. Brooks demanded the actors send Brooks a letter of apology for putting their interests ahead of the SIMPSONS “community,” which meant the writers and animators.

Also I recently had a chance to speak with one of the artists on the show, and indeed the voice actor’s contract dispute has forced the Film Roman artists to take an extended and unpaid “vacation.” They were scheduled to receive a one-month hiatus in March/April, their typical break period in between seasons, but they’ve now been out of work for two months and counting as the show slowly finds its way back into production. On the bright side, Fox can use the money they saved from not paying the artists to make up for the increased salaries of the voice actors. As always, the only losers in this case are the artists working in the trenches.

Animator Volus Jones, RIP

Animator Volus Jones passed away on May 3 at the age of 90. He worked in animation from 1934 through 1982 at studios including Harman-Ising, Disney, Columbia, Format, TV Spots, Warner Bros., Fred Calvert Productions, Bakshi, UPA and Hanna-Barbera. Animation veteran Floyd Norman offered this remembrance of Jones on Animation Nation:

The old guys called him “The Duck Man.” Volus Jones spent a good deal of his time at the Disney studio animating Donald. And, he did it pretty darn good.

When this young kid picked up his first Donald Duck scene to inbetween back in the Fifties, it was a Volus Jones scene. I was proud to just be doing inbetweens for a real Disney animator. The guys who animated the Disney shorts never had the fame of “The Nine Old Men,” but you better believe me, they were darn good animators.

Volus Jones was always a charming gentleman. Casual, relaxed, yet classy all the way. I’ll sure miss him.

ON THE FRONT LINES

on the front linesWhat can I say? It’s amazing!I never thought I’d live to see the day they’d release restored, perfect copies of DER FUEHRER’S FACE, EDUCATION FOR DEATH and VICTORY THROUGH AIR POWER on home video. These were “Holy Grail” films in my lifetime – and here they are, as fresh as the day they were made – in a collection that everyone must own (heck, buy two… before Disney comes to their senses!).WALT DISNEY ON THE FRONT LINES is the animation dvd event of the year – whether you are an animation fan, a history or miltary buff or a Disney completist. These wartime shorts are some of the best animated films the studio ever made – all have been rarely seen since their original release – and they are surprisingly relevant to current world events.The highlight of the dvd is the magnificently restored film prints – crystal clarity, vivid colors and sharp sound. I’d forgotten how good THE OLD ARMY GAME and COMMANDO DUCK are, and I’d never seen HOW TO BE A SAILOR. What great cartoons!
I’d seen shorts like THE WINGED SCOURGE and SPIRIT OF ’43 before – but never from 35mm in brand-new condition like this! Amazing!
Then there are the bonus materials – it’ll take you hours to go through: The trailer, behind the scenes footage, production art from VICTORY THROUGH AIR POWER; production art from most of the shorts… in fact, I finally saw something I always wanted to see: a Hitler model sheet! It’s included in the EDUCATION FOR DEATH production art gallery. I knew Disney, Warners, Lantz and others had to have made such a chart – they used the “character” so often – but I’ve never seen one reprinted anywhere.
The galleries include pages from DISPATCH FROM DISNEY (a rare wartime publication), Disney insignias, and Disney propaganda posters. Leonard Maltin introduces various sections and specific shorts, as well as conducting some wonderful, conversational interviews with Joe Grant, John Hench and Roy Disney.There is much here to rave about. Special mention, and our thanks, must go to Roy Disney, Dave Bossert and Leonard Maltin for making this incredible dvd compilation a reality. ON THE FRONT LINES goes on sale May 18th.

JOHN SEELY 1923-2004

John Seely recieved music credit on six Warner Bros. cartoons released in 1958 – when Milt Franklin and the Warner studio musicians went on strike. Seely’s stock music cues were used to ruin several Jones’ Road Runner films and made a lackluster Tweety & Sylvester entry (A BIRD IN A BONNET) even worse than it really was. McKimson’s PRE-HYSTERICAL HARE (the one with “Elmer Fuddstone” voiced by Dave Barry) was possibly the worst Bugs Bunny cartoon ever made, and Seely’s score certainly helped sour the proceedings.John Seely’s music was used to better effect on several sitcoms (Dennis The Menace, My Three Sons, Donna Reed) and numerous Marx Toys commercials. Seely passed away at age 80 on April 23rd. It was announced in this obituary in the Oakland Tribune.

The TV Animation Business Part 3

What If You’re Not a Multinational?

The multinational corporations are not the only companies making animated TV series. But if you’re not a multinational and don’t own your own channels, you have to work hard to get a broadcaster interested.

One way to do it is with a marketing hook. You’ve got to show broadcasters something that they believe will pull in an audience that they can sell to advertisers. In children’s television, one approach is to adapt a well-known children’s book. Some companies, like Nelvana and Cinar, built their studios on this approach. The success of the books also provides a safety net for the broadcast executive in charge of buying programs. If a show based on a well-known book fails, it’s easier to defend the decision to buy the show than it would be to defend buying something untested in the marketplace.

The marketing angle doesn’t have to come from a book. While DreamWorks is a large, successful company, they don’t own a broadcaster and as a result, their success in TV has been limited. Father of the Pride, their forthcoming computer animated prime time series, has several marketing hooks. It uses computer animation (though that didn’t seem to help Game Over) but more importantly, it features Siegfried and Roy, performers who are known from their TV appearances and their Las Vegas act. It also doesn’t hurt that the animal characters are lions. I’m sure that NBC is hoping that Jeffrey Katzenberg’s previous success with animated lions will continue.

Independent companies often rely heavily on merchandising revenues. HIT is a British company that owns Bob the Builder. They spent a limited amount of money producing the animation and then merchandised the property as heavily as they could. They made more from the merchandising than they did from the show. Using their profits from Bob, they bought Barney the Dinosaur and also bought a Canadian company, Gullane, just so they could get ownership of Thomas the Tank Engine.

Some companies have resorted to giving their shows away for free in the U.S, just so that the shows can stimulate the sale of merchandise. Barney, even before it was bought by HIT, was provided to PBS for free, as was the show The Big Comfy Couch. The producers felt that if they could get the show to an audience, they could sell enough merchandise to pay for the production of the show and still show a profit.

I’ve heard of instances where producers offered to pay to put their shows on the air in order to find an audience for their merchandising efforts.

This is how companies sometimes get broadcasters interested. Another necessity for companies that don’t own channels is keeping their costs down, and they do this through outsourcing and co-productions. I’ll talk about these next time.

LORENZO

lorenzoI had a bittersweet experience yesterday, during a screening at the Disney studios.
I saw Mike Gabriel’s new five minute animated short, LORENZO (which will be released May 26th with the feature “Raising Helen”) and it’s a real gem. I truly think it’ll be the Oscar winner in next years animated short competition.Like DESTINO, it is artistically brilliant, innovative and dare-I-say-it, “cutting edge”. Unlike DESTINO, it has a clever story, funny gags and sharp comic timing. And did I mention it was animated traditionally?lorenzoThat’s the sad part. I sat there enthralled by this delightful cartoon knowing that the studio had dismissed a majority of it’s traditional animation staff – and here on the screen was a clue to where Disney 2-D could go; here was a possible future direction for feature animation. A brilliant way traditional and CG can blend together beautifully.
The film does indeed use computers – a new computer program, ‘Sable, which allows characters to retain the crude but lush brushstroke appearence of Gabriel’s original inspriational art: acrylic paints on black construction paper.lorenzoThe finished product is a delight. That elusive “magic” that Disney once had is here in spades. Joe Grant came up with the story – about a cat whose tail comes to life and he can’t get away from it. Gabriel set the story to an Argentine tango (the film was started as a possible segent for Fantasia 2000). Roy Disney, Don Hahn and Baker Bloodworth produced. Kudos to all – for reminding us all how great animation is, and can continue to be.

The TV Animation Business Part 2

How Multinational Corporations Thrive

As I mentioned in the last installment, the paradox of the TV business is that the increasing number of channels leads to a decrease in viewers for any one channel. Fewer viewers mean less income. There are strategies for getting around this problem and this installment will talk about how the multinationals – companies like Disney, Time-Warner, Viacom, etc. – deal with it.

One way large companies increase the amount of money they make is by vertical integration. A single company owns production, distribution and exhibition. Disney has the ability to create a show, distribute it and air it on TV. By buying from itself, Disney makes sure that money that it spends stays inside the company. Any profit generated by a show also stays within the company.

But how do Disney, Time-Warner or Viacom compensate for the shrinking size of their audience? They do it by putting their shows on more channels. All of these companies own more than one channel in North America. In addition, these multinationals own channels in other countries as well. There are Disney channels in Europe. There’s a Cartoon Network in South America. There are versions of Nickelodeon in several countries. If you can place your show on enough channels that you own, you can find an audience big enough to make a profit.

Animation travels better than live action. TV regularly takes shows from other countries and remakes them. All in the Family was based on a British TV series. Survivor now has different versions running in several countries. That’s not the case for Spongebob Squarepants. While he’s dubbed, the same episodes are shown all over the planet.

Economically, this model works great. From a creator’s or a viewer’s standpoint, it doesn’t work as well.

Large companies want to own things outright. If you pitch a show to a Disney or a Viacom and they’re interested, they’ll end up owning it. You’re free to try and negotiate your best financial deal, but the copyright will go to them. I don’t know Genndy Tartakovsky’s deal on Samurai Jack, but if Time-Warner decides that they want to team Samurai Jack up with Yogi Bear, there’s nothing that Tartakovsky can do about it. In the worst case scenario, a creator can be fired from his own show. This is what Nickelodeon did to John Kricfalusi on Ren and Stimpy.

The fact that shows appear on more than one channel effectively reduces the variety that the 500 channel universe was supposed to provide. What good are more channels if the bulk of them are running shows you can see elsewhere?

Another problem is that companies prefer to make shows from properties they already own. It’s easier to sell the audience something they’re familiar with than something new. I’m losing count of how many animated versions of Batman there are. I don’t doubt that as long as Time-Warner owns Batman, there will be new Batman cartoons. As good as they might be, the airtime taken up by Batman is airtime that won’t be available for something new. That limits the opportunities available to creators and limits the variety available to viewers.

But the multinationals aren’t the only ones producing TV animation. Next time, I’ll look at how smaller companies deal with the economics of TV.

DISNEY TREASURES

disney treasuresOh boy! I’m excited!
They go public on May 18th, but I just recieved an advance set of the long-delayed Disney Treasures: On The Front Lines, Tomorrowland, Mickey Mouse In Living Color Vol. 2 and The Chronological Donald.I’ll post a review of the wartime set as soon as I can, followed by my thoughts on the others – but I can tell you right now that they are amazing, and were well worth the wait.Oh, and Roy Disney’s signature is still on the packaging!

Fractured Fairy Tales

Anybody who thinks their life is pathetic will feel a lot better after reading this. Micah Ian Wright, a former writer for Nickelodeon’s ANGRY BEAVERS among other things, has been claiming for years that he was an Army Ranger-turned-peacenik, and has been writing politically-charged books and comics under this guise. On April 25, after years of masquerading as a military veteran, he revealed that he never served in the Army… and he only made this revelation because the WASHINGTON POST was planning to run an article exposing him as a fake and liar. I once met with him to talk about his Nickelodeon pilot, CONSTANT PAYNE, but we never discussed his miltary career so I can’t say I’ve ever been duped in person by this despicable character. But I do remember hearing him on local radio a while back discussing the Iraq war as if he were an Army veteran and it never occured to me that he might be making the whole thing up. Here are some links to catch up on the story: the Comic Book Resources article, the WASHINGTON POST story, Micah’s personal “apology”, and comments from other folks HERE, HERE and HERE. If this turns out anything like the NEW YORK TIMES/Jayson Blair scandal, Micah will probably score a generous book deal to write about how he managed to keep up this charade for so many years.

EAST COAST SCREENINGS

bill plymptonHair HighWe plug a lot of Los Angeles screenings here, but we have a lot of east coast friends too – and I’ll do my best to post significant animation events in New York (and surrounding areas) when I hear about them.The folks at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, NY are continuing their animation programming with a Tribute To BETTY BOOP next week (May 12th) and an evening with BILL PLYMPTON (June 23rd), which will include a preview showing of his latest feature HAIR HIGH.I also hear that the Disney Wartime Cartoon Screening (next Tuesday in Glendale, CA at the Alex Theatre) will be happening in Washington DC later this month (more details to come). I’ll keep you posted.

The TV Animation Business Part 1

Three Ways to Make Money

I’ve worked in different kinds of television animation for my entire career. As a result, I’ve become something of a student of the television business. This is especially true since I’ve tried selling shows.

This is the first part of a series explaining how the TV business works. The economics affect what shows get on the air. For those of us who work in the business, it affects the jobs that are available.

Companies have to sell a product or service to make money. What does a TV channel sell? If the channel has any advertising on it, what it’s selling is the viewer: you. By tuning in, you are adding yourself to the crowd watching that channel and the channel turns around and sells the crowd to advertisers. This used to be a channel’s sole income.

This is nothing more than a high tech version of the travelling medicine show. In the 19th century, a horse drawn wagon would move from town to town. A singer or banjo player would stand on the back of the wagon and draw a crowd. Once the crowd was large enough, it was time for old Doc Potter to come out and sell his snake oil. Only one dollar a bottle; good for what ails you. In modern terms, TV programming is the banjo player. The crowd never pays for the banjo player directly; it pays indirectly when it buys snake oil.

Since the start of cable television, there are subscription fees. Some channels receive a portion of their money from your cable bill and still run commercials for additional income. Other channels exist solely by subscription. That’s the only case where TV programs are actually the products, as the customers are paying for them directly.

The final money stream is merchandising. It might be as basic as selling the show on DVD or it might mean creating completely new merchandise around a show: toys, lunchboxes, comic books, etc. Animation is a natural fit for merchandising.

No matter what the money stream, the object is to draw the biggest crowd possible. More people lead to more sales. Here, we’re faced with an important paradox. The number of channels has grown proportionally faster than the number of people watching. While we all have greater choice as to what we watch, each individual channel actually has fewer viewers. Every new channel that shows up on your TV makes the problem worse.

Next: Multinationals and how they deal with the paradox.

More on Indian Outsourcing

Harvey Deneroff, who runs the invaluable industry news site Deneroff.com, points out another recent article on Indian outsourcing from THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS. It’s a different studio, but essentially the same story as yesterday’s news item: Color Chips India Limited has signed production deals with BKN Kids (Germany) and Benj Production (France), and they’re looking to add 800 animators to their staff within the next 12 months.

These major hiring binges by Indian studios beg the question: Is the overseas animation industry truly experiencing such rapid growth or are these simply animation jobs being transferred from South Korea to the cheaper Indian studios? Are studios in other Asian countries in a slump because of this rise in Indian animation? I’m not familiar enough with the overseas animation industry to offer any valuable insights into the situation, but it strikes me as noteworthy that Indian studios are hiring animators by the hundreds.

The other issue is, of course, the quality of the animation. The vast majority of Indian animation I’ve seen over the past few years has been cringe-worthy, and it’ll be quite a few more years before their industry matures to the quality of some of the more animation-experienced Asian countries. Of course, by that time, shameless Western producers will have found other countries who will produce animation even cheaper than India, thus ensuring that TV animation will always look (for the most part) like sh*t. One other interesting bit worth noting is that Indian studios are now doing Flash animation as well. Eddie Mort and Lili Chin, creators of MUCHA LUCHA!, recently posted a PHOTO of their Indian animation crew at Jadoo.

An Abbreviated Legacy

“Our goal is to create quality animated films with compelling stories and strong characters and to continue Walt Disney’s legacy of hand drawn animation.” That was the business plan of Orlando-based Legacy Animation, a studio started by ex-Disney Feature (Florida) animators in January 2004. Now just a few months later, Legacy has shut down permanently. This was confirmed yesterday by one of the studio’s co-founders, Eddie Pittman, on the Animation Nation boards: “Legacy is in fact finished. I wish I could tell everyone more, but, for obvious reasons, I’m just not able to at this time.”